May 2023

Early Days in the Vortex/ Part Three

Brian George

Adolph Gottlieb Augury 1945

In March of 1975, I went with two friends to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Harvard. It was there that I met an intelligent five-foot matrix of quartz. My skull hummed. Voices swelled from the Hypogeum on Malta. A python hissed from his crevice at Delphi. Gargoyles roared from their ledges on Notre Dame. Trembling, I did my best to write down what I heard. There was a scent of nuclear fallout in the air, of sandalwood mixed with ash from the Battle of Kurukshetra. My hands were cold. I could barely hold my pencil. The museum guards wouldn't let me rest my notebook on a display case. The babbling swelled, and then continued to grow louder. If only these beings were not speaking in so many different languages!

In these early days in the vortex, the inner and the outer worlds frequently changed places. I not only felt that I belonged to a community of artists, I also felt I was part of a living universe that was itself a form of art, in which artist and work were the alternate aspects of one seemingly atonal but harmonious process, in which the living differed from the dead mostly in being subject to the law of gravity (except for those of us who were evolved, of course). The way to grasp the psychotic complexity of this web was to plunge without looking towards the depths of the confusion. Joy was the key to the City of the Ancients. Once, the whole of the world could be fit inside my heart. Facts in the foreground led to the conundrum of the infinite, as the figure eight revealed—if only to cover it up again—the erotic subtext of the Eon. False rulers had corrupted the translucency of the records. It was our job to remember how to read.

Lacunae were like oceans, once thought by archaeologists to create barriers between continents, which our hairier prototypes were too stupid to overcome. More recent theories suggest that such "barriers" could be a means of transportation. The very opacity of the sign was an indication that something big was going on. The more absurd, the better. The sign suggested, it did not denote, and the further we had to go to wrap our minds around it the more radical, in the end, would be the change in our awareness. It was good to be puzzled, at the mercy of the currents and the winds. It was possible that our own breath was the thread that led from the labyrinth, whose exit, now too tiny to see, was located on a foreign shore.

The rate of coincidence exploded. For example, at 6 AM one day I was awakened from a dream, as I heard, forced from my lips, the Mayan word "Xibalba." At 8:30, when I left for school, I found that some passerby had written "Xibalba" on the steps of my apartment building. How often does that happen? A coincidence, or so the scientist says, of which one normally does not bother to take note. And yet…This was the only day, out of the thousands before and since, on which some passerby has written a Mayan word by my door.

It was possible, also, to put this power of connection to the test. For example, the phrase, "the pyramids of Antarctica" once popped into my head. I then wandered blindly into a bookstore, allowing my hand to select a volume from the shelves. As the book fell open, my eyes landed on the phrase "the pyramids of Antarctica." Snorting, the skeptical reductionist might exclaim, "Such things are hardly unusual, and are easily explained by current theories of statistical probability! Will you never tire of pointing these trite coincidences out?" And yet this experience did not feel in any way reducible to the laws of mathematics, nor did my certainty that the event was just about to occur. Appearances to the contrary, I would argue that I watched instead of acted. My role was that of a detached observer, and it felt as though my memory had been moving from the future to the present.

Victor Brauner, The City I Dream Of, 1937

No, it is the skeptical reductionist who violates the rule of "Occam's Razor"; the sheer outrageousness of many such connections seems designed to place them beyond the realm of mathematical probability, to insure that we regard them as a kind of wake-up call, or as a test. Their opaque absurdity is not different from their message.

For example: once, traveling on a Greyhound bus to visit my family in back in Worcester, I began mentally to repeat to myself a pun from one of the "gargoyle" poems I had written, involving Shamash, the Babylonian god, and sour mash whiskey. Frost froze on my lips as I perched on the ledge of my cathedral. "Shamash! Shamash!" I invoked, as, in the seats just behind me, two guys began to discuss, in some detail, the distillation of sour mash whiskey. Thus completing the predetermined pun. The proponent of mathematical probability might say, "Out of the tens of millions of times every year that a Greyhound passenger might repeat the god-name "Shamash" to himself, simultaneously having punned on the name in a free -associative poem, of course there would be at least one instance where the two guys in the seats just behind him would start talking about sour mash."

I would conscript each random stranger into the army of synchronicity! I would stage a revolution! The Self must become a collective, a forum for the returning gods. The One must recover its capacity to act. I would educate the dead in the lost art of ventriloquism, even I, the most ignorant of all.

Who knows what such coincidences mean? I took them nonetheless as signs that there were forces guiding, if somewhat obscurely, my steps. Metaphors were oceans: to be crossed, and vice versa. So too, each booby -trap in the metalinguistic labyrinth was usually, when you looked at it, far more logical than it seemed. Its goal was to inform you of the next step you should take. Some would argue, of course, that we have no good reason to place our trust in coincidence, that its hand may be that of a trickster, not a guide. Well, that would not surprise me much. But the goal of exploration has never been to play safe. "If we do not expect the unexpected," says Heraclitus, "then we will not discover it, for it is not to be searched out and is difficult to apprehend." At the crossroads, I met Hermes; there, he killed me.

I have died, so to speak, at least once, as I will again at some point in the future, as I prepare myself to do—both personally and cosmologically—every day. I offer gifts to Hermes. He ambiguously accepts them, and he sometimes, if in his own way, offers gifts to me. I still feel myself to be part of a living universe that is itself a form of art. I only wish that artists' lofts were once again affordable, that artists and not hedge fund managers could live in abandoned factories, that artists could make art instead of polishing their brands. I only wish we did not choose to throw our vision away, that we did not so casually submit to the hypnosis of Earth's Rulers. I only wish that key cultural moments were more permanent than they are. I only wish that good friends were not prone to drift apart. I only wish that we could see from the edge of the primal sphere, that we could physically drop in on each important breakthrough, that we could speak with those we loved as if for the first time.  I only wish that connections that so easily arose were not quite so easily broken.


Victor Brauner, Cosmogony of a Face, 1961

A red sun, now repopulated, rises from the ocean. It is time to return the rooster that one had borrowed from Asclepius. For, in a moment, one must die.

Key turning points give access to the realm of the Ideal.

There is one story, only, however odd this might seem, out of which each Argonaut must assemble their own version, by stealth illuminating the character of the once generic face.


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Brian George is the author of two books of essays and four books of poetry. His book of essays Masks of Origin: Regression in the Service of Omnipotence has just been published by Untimely Books at
https://untimelybooks.com/book/masks-of-origin. He has recently reactivated his blog, also called Masks of Origin at https://masksoforigin.blogspot.com/. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, an exhibited artist and former teacher. He often tells people first discovering his work that his goal is not so much to be read as to be reread, and then lived with.
For more of his writings in Scene4, check the Archives.

©2023 Brian George
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine






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